According to Hobbes: Packers Offseason Primer on the NFL Combine: Outside Linebackers All Green Bay Packers All the Time

Outside Linebackers: Here’s the eighth of a series of articles, looking specifically at the NFL combine and the Packers’ drafting tendencies. (Read here for the rationale for this serieshere for quarterbackshere for running backs, here for wide receivershere for tight endshere for offensive tackleshere for offensive interior linemen and here for defensive ends).  This article will use the combine numbers from previous players drafted by GM Ted Thompson as a guide for what outside linebackers are likely to fit into the Packers’ scheme.

Again, this is merely an attempt to make a best guess based on statistics at which players the Packers might be interested in, game tape naturally trumps combine numbers, so take all of this with a grain of salt.  But I believe it will make for some interesting discussion.  Also listed below are also two outside linebackers in this year’s draft who I think fit the Packers scheme the best, based on their combine numbers.

Statistics of outside linebackers linemen drafted by the Packers:

Name Height Weight 40-Yard 3-Cone Shuttle Vertical Broad Bench
Brady Poppinga 6’3” 259.00 4.59 7.29 4.39 35.50 110.00 26.00
Dave Tollefson 6’4” 263.00 4.74 6.98 4.48 34.50 114.00 27.00
Jeremy Thompson 6’4” 262.00 4.75 6.97 4.23 32.00 117.00 25.00
Clay Matthews 6’3” 246.00 4.59 6.90 4.18 35.50 23.00
Brad Jones 6’3” 230.00 4.54 6.75 4.21 33.00 119.00 19.00
Average 6’3” 252.00 4.64 6.98 4.30 34.10 115.00 24.00
StDev 0.55 14.05 0.10 0.20 0.13 1.56 3.92 3.16


What the Packers are looking for: Again one of the biggest discrepancies with this analysis is the fact that the Packers switch to the 3-4 in 2009 under Dom Capers.  Just like with my previous article on defensive ends, I have projected players who were drafted before 2009 into their most likely positions in a 3-4 defense.  Luckily this isn’t as big of a challenge as it was for defensive end players as only one player, Dave Tollesfon, had to be projected to a 3-4 outside linebacker.

Of the five, two players were converted defensive ends, Tollesfon never managed to make it onto the team as was sent to NFL Europe and Jeremy Thompson was in the process of converting to an outside linebacker when a freak neck injury forced him to retire early.  Brady Poppinga on the other hand was a starter in the 4-3 defense, but never seemed to be in serious consideration as a 3-4 outside linebacker; he was relegated to mostly special teams and was injured this season and will mostly likely not be returning.  That leaves the two starters from the 2009 season: Clay Matthews III, who needs no introduction, and Brad Jones who became the starter after Aaron Kampman went on IR until he himself was placed on IR.

The drills that outside linebackers have the lowest relative standard deviation (thus implying highest importance) are height, vertical and shuttle.  If you exclude Tollefson and Thompson, who were drafted as 4-3 defensive ends, all Packers outside linebackers since 2009 have been 6’3” with a couple of players at 6’2” (the most notable being Erik Walden).  Vertical again probably is indirectly related to some other factor than a player’s jumping ability; Nathan Forster from Football Outsiders considers it a prime factor in predicting a player’s 5 year sack totals, assuming that players with good verticals will have more leg power and therefore a more explosive pass rush (anyone with an actual copy of the Football Outsiders 2010 almanac want to expand on this would be greatly appreciated).  Forster also included the 20 yard shuttle into his algorithm; the shuttle shows a players lateral ability as well as his ability to change directions and his flexibility. In 2009, Clay Matthews ran a 4.18, which is considered a respectable time for a cornerback.

As for specific skills, rushing the passer is by far the most important.  Pass rush traditionally comes from the outside linebackers in the 3-4; in fact the defensive line’s main priority is to take up blockers so that the outside linebackers can come in behind them and make plays.  Outside linebackers however, must be multifaceted in the 3-4 as well, having the ability to drop back and cover makes the rush more unpredictable and that much more effective.  For the Packers specifically, the linebacker positions are more “liberal” often times Clay Matthews and Erik Walden would line up as middle linebackers to spy on quarterbacks or to run delay blitzes up the middle.


Comparable outside linebackers in the 2011 draft (analysis taken from

Justin Houston Georgia/6’3”/270 lbs/4.68 40-yard dash/ 36.5 vertical/ 4.37 shuttle:

  • Fits the size of a prototypical outside linebacker
  • Active pass rusher
  • Can also contain the run and has experience at pass defense


  • Could be more consistent in pass rush
  • Can get washed out
  • Lacks awareness

Brooks Reed Arizona/6’3”/263 lbs/4.68 40-yard dash/30.5 vertical/4.28 shuttle:


  • 100% effort type of player
  • A technician at the position
  • Excellent awareness


  • Lacks prototypical size of a outside linebacker
  • Not strong enough for run defense
  • Hips and feet only adequate


Conclusion:  Before 2009 4-3 defensive ends were a highly drafted position by Ted Thompson, the reason behind this is that the pass rush and pass rushing depth are vitally important for the defense, and now that the Packers are a 3-4 defense, it only stands to reason that Thompson will be drafting many defense ends and linebackers for the 3-4 outside linebacker position as well.  Ironically, in 2010 no linebackers were taken, hence the rush to find free agents; perhaps even more ironic is that for the most part, free agents Frank Zombo and Erik Walden worked out pretty well.  Assuming that Zombo, Walden and Brad Jones continue to improve, depth shouldn’t be an issue.  But is anyone other than Matthews a dominating presence at outside linebacker?  A dominant outside linebacker across from Matthews would provide greater flexibility, more pass rush and less emphasis on blocking Matthews, which would make him more effective too.   If not, it would make sense to see Thompson draft high in the position.




Thomas Hobbes is a staff writer for Jersey Al’s


27 thoughts on “According to Hobbes: Packers Offseason Primer on the NFL Combine: Outside Linebackers

  1. Everyone would look for a Matthews but the fact is the 3 young bucks combined stats shows fairly well

  2. i guess i disagree that brooks reed is not strong enough to support the run. i think he plenty strong enough and appears to play with good leverage. i like him a lot in the first round at #32. just imagine what a guy like him would be like with Kevin Greene coaching him for a couple years. Effort is huge at the OLB spot. Guys like and possibly Reed can wear on OT down over the course of a game if they keep going at them. I will agree that his feet are only adequate and coverage will be a weakness. But it is Zombo’s weakness as well and Zombo cannot bend the corner like Reed.
    other guys that look really good to me are

    Chris Carter and Mario Addison.

    Chris Carter appears to have a great first step and really good hand use for a college speed rusher. Arm length appears to be adequate at a minimim.

    Addison also is a DE convert who may be a little undersized but looks like he has good leverage and a nice get off. I believe he has an 80″ wingspan which is more than adequate for an OLB. He could be stronger and is a little more of a project.

    1. I don’t worry about Reed against the run, but have huge concerns about his ability to drop in coverage. I’d put more weight on him and keep him at DE for a 4-3 team.

  3. At NFLdraftscout, they have CMIII’s combine broad jump as 10″01″…

    I also find the 10-yard split to be important for pass rushers. Some (FO) say it’s more indicative of the training the guy received for the 40 yard dash, but one can make the same claim for every single measured drill.

    1. the 10 yards split is MUCH more important than the 40 for basically every position. maybe WR, CB and S they 40 is as important than the 10 yard split, but that is up for debate. if a guy does not have the ability to be sudden, speed means nothing in the nfl. build up speed is WAYYY over rated. just ask the 49ers how they feel about taylor mays and his speed.

      is the NFL website the worst website in the world for draft info? the control all of the combine data and the site is worthless. it did not work at all this year (do not know if they have it fixed I have not gone back) but if you clicked on WR it would bring up TEs. Click on TEs and it would bring up RBs. just a waste of time.

      and what is up with only reporting the top performers? give me everyone! who bombed? publish 10 yards splits! just awful. I have no idea who is running that site for them but they should be fired immediately.

      1. agreed. It’s pretty incredible we have to depend on fantasy football websites for accurate combine information on NFL players.

      2. Well they finally redid the site so that you can see all the results, but the filters are quite terrible; like you can see all the 40 yard dash times for linebackers for instance.

    1. I have three words for Jabaal Sheard:

      Impossible to Block. Guy brings nasty on every play. A bit limited skills-wise, but he’s a beast.

      1. I am very happy to find someone else who shares my enthusiasm for SHeard.

        I know Reed gets a lot of love from all around, but I think a lot of Packers fans in particular see pasty white skin and long blonde hair and can’t help but project CM3 traits onto Reed. For all the talk of his motor, he has nowhere near the speed or hustle of ‘The Bloodline’. I think Reed capitalizes on Linemen’s errors and mismatches more than outplays his opponent. Reed looks like a very good Collegiate pass rusher who will be average to pedestrian at best in the NFL.

        While I can’t project if Sheard has the chops to drop into coverage, I can say this with all certainty: If you’re a Packers fan who is looking for an all-out pass rush monster with the burst, motor and both power and speed moves to bookend opposite Matthews, take a good long look at Jabaal Sheard. The tape on this kid makes Reed look like he needs to be burped and changed in comparison.

        1. To be honest I’m not particularly enamored with Reed, I think the biggest thing I’ve seen is he takes super wide arcs to get to the quarterback, my feeling is that he would rather out-turn a tackle rather attempt to be physical with them. Unfortunately, this usually means he breaks the coverage as quarterbacks throw to the side that Reed should be in or they just step up and out since Reed is so far outside the pocket. But that’s beside the point of the article, he does fit in to what the Packers like at outside linebacker

          1. Thomas,
            I didn’t mean to imply I didn’t think Reed projects as a 3-4 OLB, and my opinions on his talents were not meant to be a criticism of your inclusion of him in the article. Clearly, he’s being projected as a 3-4 OLB prospect by folks all over the league and all the analysts, and there’s no question many a Pack fan have their sights on him in particular.

            That said, my admittedly amateur eye isn’t seeing what all the hubbub is about with Reed. I think your take on his wide bend is very interesting- I wouldn’t have thought about the opening of the passing lanes that creates. Great insight.

            Another positive with a project OLB (Converted DE who may or may not have the swivel in the hips to cover) like Sheard is he could fall in the draft- He is projected to be ranked around the 10th best overall OLB in the draft, and between 23rd-40th overall. However, I could see him falling back a bit simply because so many teams are in need of QBs, and once the OT runs start, it could theoretically push back the #5 and lower ranked OLBs by another 10-15 picks, IMO.

            COuld be a TT trade down/value special??

        2. Oppy: I’m also a fan of Sheard. I’m also a big fan of Kendrick Ellis. W/ Raji and Ellis collapsing the pocket and Jabaal and Clay coming off the edge the offense line wouldn’t know what to do…oh yeah, let’s throw in some Woodson blitzes as well…yikes.

          1. if we do not get Reed, Sheard would be fantastic. I think he has a good burst, but is not elite in that area. But just being relentless can pay huge dividends. Just ask Aaron Kampmann. Sheard is a guy that I was really surprised with when I watched him. I was expecting to see someone like Sam Acho (not much burst or aggression) but that is not the case. Definitely a good player. But dropping in coverage is going to take a while for him. But as always, getting to the passer comes first and figure out the rest later.

        3. To be completely fair and honest, I just read that Reed’s 10 yard split was tops at the combine at the position, and it was only five thousandths (.005) slower than CM3 ran.

          Bit surprised, he didn’t strike me as that sudden or quick on film.

  4. I don’t think we need a CM3 clone but a player of his own ability to off-set/enhance CM3’s and is found in the mid rounds by taking Cliff Matthews of S,Car.

    1. Yes, said a month ago we draft a LB named C. Matthews only his first name would be cliff not Casey. I also think Ricky Elmore may end up being the better NFL LB from AZ than Reed.

      1. As I wrote in the CheeseheadTV Draft Guide, Cliff Matthews and Steven Friday are my top two mid-round OLBs. Either one would be just fine opposite CMIII.

        1. I’d be a bit worried about Friday’s age 25 & Matthews is somewhat lumbering.I agree with Numby all the prospects everyone is mentioning are at best equal to the 3 OLB’s we have already. So why waste the pick unless we can get a pass rushing demon.

  5. I can’t help it, I watched a ton of Brooks Reed videos and I am all in on him as being a really good 3-4 OLB. A few months ago I thought GB might be able to grab him in the third round, now I’m starting to see a few mocks with him in the first which has me worried that New England is going to grab him. I just see him as a long term difference maker that could take this defense to a whole new level! Fast 10 yard split backs up what I saw on him turning the corner.

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